On Our Plate: 2012 James Beard Award Nominees; Private Party Planning Tips; UNICEF Tap Project; Boston Restaurant Week + Chicago Chef Reservations

Donate a dollar for each free glass of tap water during the UNICEF Tap Project to help provide clean drinking water to children around the world.

Happenings on and around OpenTable… 

* Congratulations to the 2012 James Beard Foundation Award nominees. Find out if your fave chef or restaurant was recognized.

* Planning a private partyManhattan event planner Maya Kalman has five tips to make it your best soiree yet.

* The UNICEF Tap Project is happening now! Dine out and donate to help provide the world’s children with safe, clean water.

* Share Our Strength 2012 Taste of the Nation fundraisers are happening in San Francisco on March 29th and a city near you. Buy tickets today.

* Do you make the best grilled sandwich in the world? Enter Artisanal’s contest to win cool prizes and bragging rights!

* This week’s restaurant review trend? Meat-free dining during Lent.

* Speaking of meat free, did you observe the Great American Meat OutLet us know in this week’s poll!

* Did you send the Tweet of the WeekFind out.

* Reserve to Dine out to fight AIDS at select DenverMinneapolisPhiladelphiaSan DiegoSan Francisco,and Washington, D.C.  restaurants on April 26th!

* Restaurant Weeks in Boston, Chicago ChefThe Hamptons, Hudson Valley, and South Jersey are happening now. Don’t miss your chance to dine out for less in your city.

* Restaurant reservations are now available for additional Restaurant Weeks, such as AustinLong IslandPortsmouthSeattleand Talbot County.

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50 Best Restaurant Bars in the U.S.

Top-50-Vibrant-Bar-Scene-RestaurantsDo you enjoy starting — or ending — your evening of dining out with a cocktail at a restaurant’s bar? Of course, you do — which is why OpenTable is pleased to announce the winners of our 2009 Diners’ Choice Awards for restaurants with the “Most Vibrant Bar Scenes.” Derived from nearly four million reviews submitted by OpenTable diners for more than 10,000 restaurants in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, this list speaks to diners who love to mix and mingle at the bar before or after dinner.

Out just in time for the super-social holiday season, this list, along with our Good for Groups winners as well as our new Private Dining Pages, can help you find the perfect place to get in the spirit of the season with friends, family, and coworkers. Winners include Chicago’s 33 Club, Chino Latino in Minneapolis, Henry’s 12th Street Tavern in Portland, Loft 610 in Plano (where “Top Chef” contestant Tre Wilcox runs the kitchen), meZ in Charlotte, Ozumo in Oakland, and YOLO in sunny Fort Lauderdale, among others.

From classic cocktails and craft beers to seasonal creations and diverse wine lists, these bars are also feature plenty of opportunities for people watching. Tell us if your favorite made the list, and be sure to fill out OpenTable’s Dining Feedback Forms to make sure your voice is heard next year.

Private Dining on OpenTable Now in 22 Metro Areas

Private-Dining-22-MarketsOpenTable’s Private Dining pages have proven so successful that we have added eight additional metropolitan areas. You can now use Private Dining pages to help you plan your next event in Baltimore, Dallas/Fort Worth, Houston, New Orleans, Orlando, Phoenix, Sacramento, and San Diego.

It’s not too late to find a venue that’s right for your holiday party. Use these tips from Michael Fazio, “Concierge to the Stars,” and learn more about how Private Dining pages work here.

Holiday Party Planning Tips from Michael Fazio, Concierge to the Stars

Michael-FazioPlanning any kind of event is often fraught with stress, but thanks to OpenTable’s new Private Dining pages and these exclusive tips from Michael Fazio, you can plan your next party with less stress, in less time. Fazio, whose book Concierge Confidential will be published soon by St. Martin’s Press, says, “I love-love-love the Private Dining pages on OpenTable because they offer in one step what normally requires three.” He elaborates, “When a client asks us to arrange a private dining experience for a group, we ‘d have to leave a phone message for the person who books private events. We’d only get details about the room capacity and basic pricing structure when our call was returned. Finally, we’d then receive photos of the space and sample menus. What I adore about Private Dining pages is that I can view the room and its capacity and availability, peruse sample menus, and make contact with the event booker — ALL IN ONE STEP!”

Fazio, cofounder of Abigail Michaels Concierge, providers of a vast repertoire of concierge services to nearly 40,000 New Yorkers, shares five tips for planning a party like a pro in the know.

1. Manage your own expectations. “We should never ‘lower’ our expectations, but we all need to be realistic in understanding that the dining experience for a party of four is vastly different than the dining experience for a party of 40,” he says. Fazio suggest that planners stick to less intricate dishes to ensure service goes smoothly.

2. Sidestep sticker shock. While you can plan your own budget, it is difficult to calculate the per-person price of an event simply by looking at a standard menu. Fazio reveals, “Clients will see a menu listing apps for $10, entrées for $25, and wines by the glass for $8. Their logic tells them that the per-person price should be app + entrée + two glasses of wine = $72, yet the group menu starts at $85 per person plus tip and beverage. We have to explain that group events have different pricing because different components are required, such as additional kitchen and wait staff.”

3. Look for ways to save. If your needs are flexible, the restaurant’s pricing may be as well. He advises party planners, “Peak nights are always Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, but a restaurant may offer a reduced rate if your event is held any other night.” You may also find a bit more wiggle room in pricing when restaurants have private dining rooms that are part of their regular restaurant space. Fazio points out, “If they can fill those tables with normal business before or after your event, you’ll probably have more bargaining power when it comes to settling on pricing.”

4. Never be afraid of negotiating. According to Fazio, whose company also serves clients in Chicago and Washington, D.C., “Negotiating, when done tactfully, is always acceptable. ” After you get a full proposal from a restaurant, he recommends looking for ways to reduce the rate. “Consider different selections, foregoing dessert, or asking if you can bring your own wine,” he says. Remember to find out if a corkage fee applies.

5. Don’t disregard details. Once you have your menu and beverage selections set, don’t neglect the other factors that can make your event run smoothly. “Think about things like parking, handicap access, and availability of taxis. You’ll want to inform your guests of these details before they arrive,” says Fazio, a regular segment contributor to “The View,” where he often shares secrets of how everyday Americans can get treated like VIPs.

You can visit Abigail Michaels to learn more about Michael Fazio and his services. And, don’t forget to browse our Private Dining pages when you’re planning your next event.